Baker Mayfield, if you believe the current rumors (grains of salt heavily taken) could still be the #1 pick in the draft. Regardless, he’s going to be a top pick along with several others, as Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson are all potential first round picks.
Mayfield has question marks about size and his attitude, but also the highest production in college. There’s no disputing that last year, he was number one, and if you draft on production, he moves ahead of several others.
But Darnold, Rosen, and Jackson are the same age now as Mayfield was after his first season starting in Oklahoma. That was a very good season for Mayfield, but he has hit even greater heights in the last two, at ages when the others will be in the NFL. That, then, is a factor that teams have to evaluate when comparing prospects, trying to put what they see in the context of age. Do they do a good job of it?
Going through the last 30 years of the NFL Draft (well, 1988 to 2016, since Mahomes, Trubisky, and Watson have played less than 20 games combined), here are the percentage of first-round quarterbacks who reached at least one Pro Bowl, based on age (compared to the date of September 1st of rookie year).
24.1 or older: 1 of 5 (25.0%)
23.1 or 24.0: 6 of 21 (28.6%)
22.1 to 23.0: 12 of 27 (44.4%)
22.0 or younger: 7 of 13 (53.8%)
Let’s all have a quick laugh that the Browns once took a guy about to turn 29 in the first round. Are we done yet? Okay, moving on …
Mayfield turned 23 this month, and while not old, he’s in the upper third of age among first rounders. Meanwhile, everyone else in this draft is in the younger half, with Josh Allen turning 22 next month, and the other three all among the 15 youngest potential first-rounders in the last 30 years. Sam Darnold is still 20, and will be the third-youngest first rounder over that span, older than only Michael Vick and Tommy Maddox.
That younger group also has Mariota–who could still make a Pro Bowl during his career, and Mahomes and Watson would also qualify.
Age isn’t going to make a guy an outright bust and not able to play, but it is going to affect upside if not accounted properly. Younger guys are likely to be better if they can similarly perform. Teams have to evaluate if Mayfield’s performance is so superior that it makes up for a two year head start on Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen.